The critical mauling X-Men Origins: Wolverine received from critics and fans – and coming off the back of the equally panned X-Men: The Last Stand – meant Marvel’s tentpole character, Wolverine, demanded major redemption. So when it was announced that the next instalment was going to be based on the much lauded 1982 miniseries comic by Frank Miller, it brought plenty of fanboy approval. But The Wolverine was going to take more than just the definite article being added to the title to banish the memories of Origins and The Last Stand.
Opening the film towards the end of WWII with the atomic bombing of Nagasaki certainly adds to the intention of how serious The Wolverine is going to be. Present day sees our hero, Logan aka Wolverine, sleeping rough in the wilderness, haunted in his dreams by a dead Jean Grey (Famke Janssen) after the events of X-Men: The Last Stand. When he travels to Japan at the request of an old friend, he becomes embroiled in a family tug-of-war that sees him battling the Japanese mafia and his own personal demons.
James Mangold (3:10 to Yuma, Walk the Line) was the uninspired choice to replace original director Darren Aronofsky, but he did guarantee safe hands for the project. And safe is exactly how The Wolverine plays; just focus everything on the big man in a different setting and everything will be fine. While this sort of works, the issues which are most interesting – his immortality, seeing those he loves die – are not really focused on enough.
The introductory segment is well polished but much like Origins which also opened promisingly, it never really takes off. Bar the excellent fight scene involving the Yakuza at a funeral, followed by an inventive sequence atop of a bullet train, there’s nothing different this has to offer.
In fact, it’s the flaws – and they are quite fundamental – which really stand out:
1) Making part of The Last Stand which was so reviled (Jean Grey’s death) as a recurring theme was a huge mistake. We know it’s there to highlight how much Logan loved her but the way The Last Stand ripped any sort of heart out of their relationship meant everything feels meaningless here.
2) Similarly, relying on a connection to a franchise that is meant to be a team negates some of his individual status. The mid-credits scene which sets-up Bryan Singer’s X-Men: Days of Future Past is a prime example. As this takes place two years later, it already distances the audience from The Wolverine before the credits have even finished.
3) If the writers were going to base the plot on such a revered comic, they shouldn’t just use the character names and setting, but to take advantage of the rich source material. It barely touches it, adding further ire to dedicated fans.
Add to the above that there’s zero build-up between him and his love interest, Mariko, who also has about as much personality as a blank piece of paper (no doubt attributed to it being model Tao Okamoto’s first acting role), while the only real female he does have a spark with, Yukio, a future-seeing mutant, is reduced to his annoying sidekick, which results in there being an unbalanced feel to the main supporting roles. And is there really any need for a bright green, lycra-wearing villainess in a supposedly darker film?
These problems continue to plague the integrity of the character, and it certainly doesn’t help when our hard man proclaims, in possibly the worst line of the franchise, “Don’t hurt my friend!”.
So just because Logan is meaner, moodier and scowls a lot more, does not necessitate that The Wolverine is a success. While it does placate those wanting an improvement from Origins, it still only scratches the surface of what a really good standalone Wolverine film could be. With Fox’s claws dug deep into this cash cow, they’ll no doubt be plenty more opportunities for improvement.